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- A Handbook of Ethical Theory - 52/52 -


generally, as is the man who has never been away from his native village to pass judgment upon towns generally--towns inhabited by various peoples and situated in different quarters of the globe. His lot may, it is true, happen to be cast in a good village; but how he is to tell that it is good, I cannot conceive. He has no standard of comparison.

Fortunately, his ignorance is not as harmful as it might be. The Rational Social Will, which is penetrated through and through with traditions wiser than the whims of the individual, carries him along upon its broad bosom, and makes decisions for him.

The sociologist and the political philosopher should be consulted, as well as the historian, by one who would make a satisfactory list of books touching the subject of this chapter. But the moralist may be allowed to suggest a few titles, some of them very old ones. Plato's _Republic_ is fascinating, and Aristotle's _Politics_ is the shrewdest of books. But compare the state as conceived by these men with our notions of a modern democracy! More's _Utopia_ is a delight. To get back to earth and see what _history_ means to a state, and to its constitution and laws, read Sir Henry Maine's _Ancient Law_. States are not made in a day, although, under abnormal conditions, governments may be upset, and new ones set up, within twenty-four hours. After such unhistorical proceedings, one can scarcely expect "fast colors." One or two washings will suffice to show what was there before.

He who has a weakness for the operatic can peruse Rousseau's _Social Contract_ and the _Declaration of the Rights of Man_ published in the great French Revolution. As an antidote, I suggest Bentham's essay on _Anarchical Fallacies_.

But reading will do little good--even historical reading--unless one also thinks. It is wonderful how much knowledge a man may escape, if he is born under the proper star. I once knew an undergraduate in an American university, who attended compulsory chapel for more than three years, and who still thought that the Old Testament was a history of the Ancient Romans.

There is quite too much to say about Chapters XXXV and XXXVI. The only thing to do is to say nothing. I shall touch upon just one point in each chapter. I venture to beg the teacher, when he treats of International Ethics, to read in class, with his students, those pages in which Sir Thomas More describes the principles upon which the Utopians conducted their wars. Remember that Sir Thomas was not merely a statesman, but, by common consent, a learned, a great, and a good man. Mark the reaction of the undergraduate mind.

The one matter upon which I shall comment in Chapter XXXVI, is the question of belief as an object of approval or of censure. Westermarck states (_The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas_, Volume I, chapter viii, p. 216), that neither the Catholic nor the Protestant Church regarded _belief, as such_, as an object of censure. Yet each was willing to punish heresy. The point is most interesting, and I hazard an explanation. The churches were organizations with a definite object. They made use of reward and punishment. This was reasonable enough, abstractly considered. However, doctrine was the affair of the theologian. Now the theologian, like the philosopher, is a man who assumes that he is concerned with _proofs_, and with proofs only. If a thing is _proved_, how can a man _help_ believing it? Only if he _will_ not, which is sheer obstinacy or perversity. Let him, then, be punished on account of his defective character (see Westermarck, I, chapter xi, p. 283).

I think the apparent quibbling here can be gotten rid of by recognizing the truth emphasized in Sec Sec 167-168, namely, that logical proofs play but a subordinate part in the adoption or rejection of beliefs touching a vast number of matters both secular and religious. If we can influence men's emotions, we can influence their beliefs. Both State and Church have this power. It is a power that can be abused. But it is, on the whole, a good thing that men's beliefs can thus be influenced. There would be no stability in human society could they not. Every ignorant man--and many men are ignorant--would be at the mercy of every clever talker; and he would change his beliefs every day. As men act on beliefs, this means that he would zig-zag through life to the detriment of all orderly development. I beg the reader, learned or unlearned, to put aside prepossessions, and to look at things as they are in this field.


A Handbook of Ethical Theory - 52/52

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